Have you been through a simulation lately?

Airline pilots are required to train in simulators every six months to practice emergency procedures and keep their skills tuned. To ensure patient safety and accelerate surgeon skill development, surgical simulations have increasingly become a standard in training.

It’s easy to see why. Flying planes and conducting delicate medical procedures require application and the integration of a complex mix of skills in the moment — and can pose devastating risks if things go wrong. Organizational leadership is exactly the same, yet few organizations mandate or even use the power of simulations to provide feedback and development for leaders.  

Business simulations in a time-compressed, observed environment challenge leaders to apply a complex mix of skills. This creates an opportunity for them to get feedback and pause and reflect on their performance.  

A business simulation will challenge leaders in five critical ways:

Scan the environment and read the context. Great leaders often “see” a situation or dynamics differently from (or before) others. The ability to synthesize disparate information in order to frame an actionable picture in a situation is a hallmark of a great leader. For some it is intuitive, but for many leaders that skill comes through practice.

Think strategically and prioritize action. Great leaders can articulate a broad range of potential options in complex situations. More importantly, they can identify and sequence which action to take first. Ruthless prioritization challenges many leaders, particularly in the face of ambiguity. It is a skill honed through experience.

Apply skills and behaviors to decisions and interactions. Leadership is an interactive sport: Leaders get nothing accomplished if they cannot effectively engage direct reports, employees, bosses, or peers. Major strategic decisions are rarely made by a single individual. Business simulations offer an opportunity for leaders to practice their interactions through role-plays and team dialogue — and create a foundation for feedback that is rarely possible back on the job.

Respond in the moment, identify signals, and address change. Nothing is static. Competitors, customers, employees, and the market are all in constant motion. As challenging as it is to set direction, it is even more challenging to decide when to shift. Business simulations allow a leader to experience change and then go back and reflect on what they “missed” in order to be better prepared for the real world.

Understand the cascade effect of choices. Great leaders think multiple steps ahead. The immediate impact of a decision may be far less profound than the next series of actions and reactions that it triggers. Leaders make better choices when they develop their foresight and ability to think in multiple time dimensions. By compressing time, simulations create an effective foundation for developing that skill.

If you are a leader, how could you test your leadership skills by going through a business simulation experience? Below are a few questions to consider. How well can you answer these questions for yourself today? A simulation-based learning experience could provide more insights into your answers:

  • Do you have unconscious biases about your information sources and/or your frame for your business challenges?
  • Are you paying attention to the relationships you are developing as well as the work you and your team are getting done?
  • Are you managing for today and building for tomorrow in every decision you make?
  • Do you actively use your vision and direction to lead your team on a daily basis?
  • How effectively do you empower your organization to deliver beyond your line of sight?
  • Do your actions match your intentions as a leader?
  • Are you communicating effectively to align and empower your team?

Leaders learn from feedback: business results, observations from others, and personal reflection. A business simulation provides powerful risk-free feedback to accelerate leader growth. This is why we do what we do at Insight Experience. We’d be delighted to talk with you about challenging and growing your leaders with business simulations. It’s the learning experience they need.

Looking for more information about integrating a business simulation into your leadership development program? Head here for some thoughts from Karen Maxwell Powell, General Manager of Insight Experience, on the value of simulation-based learning across companies and industries.

Amanda Young Hickman is a Founding Partner at Insight Experience, a Boston-based firm delivering contextually rich business simulations and learning experiences to accelerate and integrate leadership, business acumen and strategy execution. 

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